Mothers, Daughters & Alphabet Soup

acronymnsI think most people would agree, open communication with your kids is a good thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to talking with our daughters about their risk of getting breast cancer, it’s not always easy. The acronyms alone are hard to keep straight; BRCA, ER+, HER2, PALB2… it’s a crazy alphabet soup! Then you throw in words like “mutation,” “risk” and “recurrence,” which makes the conversation even scarier and more overwhelming.

Here’s what we know: a family history of certain types of cancer can increase your risk of breast cancer. This increased risk may be due to genetic factors (known and unknown), shared lifestyle factors or other family traits. But here’s where it gets confusing again! Most women with breast cancer do NOT have a family history of the disease. Inherited gene mutations account for only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in women in the United States. A mother with a breast cancer diagnosis increases a daughter’s chance of getting breast cancer. However, just because you have breast cancer does not mean that your daughter will also get the disease. See what I mean by confusing?

Girls 2015

Me and my daughters last year.

I have two daughters, Jaya (22) and Sejal (11). I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer twice under age 40. So, I knew early on it was important to TALK to my daughters about breast cancer. But, through trial and error (and fights and tears), I also figured out it’s important to LISTEN to their concerns. What are they worried about? What words don’t they understand? Have them tell you. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will do everything you can to figure it out.

It’s also important to talk to them about getting to know the look and feel of their healthy breasts. That way they can be aware if anything changes.  And, hopefully talk to you about it. Since I was younger at diagnosis, my daughters will also be talking with a medical provider at a younger age than most of their peers usually would about when to start any type of screening like mammography or ultrasound. They can then talk about prevention. Yes, while we don’t have a cure yet, there are steps a healthy young woman can take to reduce her risk of getting breast cancer:

 – Limit alcohol
 – Don’t smoke
 – Control your weight
 – Be physically active
 – Breast-feed
 – Limit dose and duration of hormone therapy
 – Avoid exposure to radiation


Lastly, knowledge is power. There are great resources out there on genetics and breast cancer, accessing your risk, and support for children with a parent diagnosed with breast cancer. Learn more about risk factors, family history and genetics. Below are a few other resources to check out: 

 – Bright Pink
 – Sharsheret
 – Kids Connected
 – Get in Touch Foundation

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Good Sex Starts Within

WHW-EmailHeaderWe’re closing out Women’s Health Week with a round-up of our favorite tips for a healthy sex life during and after cancer treatment. Sex drive and sexual desire is often tied to our general health. But, let’s face it: whether you’re single or in a relationship, sex after cancer isn’t always easy.      

We’ve asked some of the best in the business to share their advice on the topic. Our biggest takeaway? Good sex starts within. Self-love, positive body image, freedom from negative self-talk, a readiness to accept pleasure—these are the building blocks of a fulfilling sex life. But these things take time, healing and sometimes professional therapy (and almost always lots of lube), so remember to go easy on yourself.

We think these tips (mental and practical) are worth a reminder:

 – Each time you see your face in a mirror, look into your eyes and say, “I love you” out loud. Say it like you mean it.

 – Take yourself on a date. Dress up so you feel beautiful, and go out for coffee, a movie, dinner or for a walk in a beautiful place.

 – Enjoy the journey. The big O is not the whole point. A round of sex is over when you feel like it’s over. The journey matters as much as the destination.

 – Use lubrication (especially if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness). Or at least have it nearby at all times. Wet and slippery feels good—dry not so much.

 – Own your own orgasm. Develop the skills and knowledge on your own to make yourself come. Then bring that knowledge to the bedroom and share it with another person. Just remember, you have a lifetime to work it out, so keep the self-love flowing.

 – Laugh. Sex at home isn’t like the movies. Be ready for things to go wrong, and have a laugh about it.

 – Ask for what you want. Check in with your partner using eye contact, sounds and words. We don’t believe anyone has magical intuitive powers to be a good lover. It takes some effort.

Let’s keep Women’s Health Week going! To learn more about breast health, download our Breast Health and You booklet. It’s full of information on breast cancer risk factors, common breast cancer myths and what you can do to take charge of your health today.  

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Thanks to our friends Claire Cavanah, Co-Founder of Babeland, and Barbara Musser, CEO of Sexy After Cancer, for their words of wisdom. You can check out their original posts on sex and intimacy after cancer here and here.  



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Six Ways To Cope with Breast Cancer

WHW-EmailHeaderWhether you’re dealing with the shock of a diagnosis, struggling with the effects of chemo brain or living with the fear of recurrence, mental well-being is an important aspect of your overall health. Taking care of your mental health can support your treatment and help you feel better physically.

For National Women’s Health Week, we curated a list of tips from our resources and blog to help you cope because you deserve to live a full and meaningful life.

Let Your Creative Juices Flow.
A breast cancer diagnosis can often lead to a mixture of emotions that are difficult to process and communicate. Expressive arts – journaling, painting, music/theater – is a way to cope with a breast cancer diagnosis and to create a legacy. It’s an opportunity to express the range of emotions you experience on your journey with breast cancer.

Read Ali Schaffer’s Inner Creative Goddess blog for inspiration and learn about the benefits of journaling from our Associate Director of Survivorship Programs, Jean Lowe, LCSW, OSW-C, CJT.

Don’t ignore what you’re feeling. Feelings of anger and grief are natural; acknowledge them and take time to mourn your losses. They are real and you have the right to grieve. With grief comes growth. Recognize that you are more than cancer and look for new ways to feel good – inside and out.

Visit our Quality of Life section for more in-depth information on the physical and psychological challenges young women with breast cancer face.

Regular meditation can help calm your mind and body and improve health. There are many types of meditation including mindfulness, yoga, qigong, tai chi, transcendental and aikido. Find one that works best for you and your needs. One easy way to do this is to take a few minutes in the morning to close your eyes and set the energy and tone for your day.

Learn about the benefits of spirituality and meditation from National Cancer Institute and in the Nutrition & Physical Wellness section of our Multi-Media Learning Library. Check out popular meditation apps here!

Seek Professional Help.
There are some topics and emotions that you don’t want to discuss with friends and family. A healthcare provider, such as a social worker or psychologist, make great objective listeners and can help you cope.  

Visit the American Psychological Association’s Breast Cancer & Mental Health fact sheet to understand the relationship between mental health and breast cancer and what role psychological treatment can play in your breast cancer treatment.

Ask For Help.
It is important to remember that you are not alone. Your friends and family want to help you during this difficult and exhausting time. With great websites like Lotsa Helping Hands, Take Them a Meal, Care Pages, you can create a support circle allowing friends and family to help schedule meals, give rides to/from treatment and assist with daily duties like cleaning.

Utilize the YSC Community.
Whether you are looking to connect in-person, online, or one-on-one, YSC SYNC has a program for you. Our Face 2 Face networks offer an opportunity to connect with young survivors in your community. Sometimes you just want to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through. YSC’s SurvivorLink offers peer-to-peer mentoring to help you find crucial support from someone who has been there.

F2F Blog Graphic (2)Other Helpful Resources:
 – Stress reducing tips by Christina Hill, Regional Field Manager (South)
 – National Cancer Institute’s section on Psychological Stress and Cancer
 – YSC’s Multi-Media Learning Library


Don’t forget to check out the other awesome resources from YSC this week in celebration of National Women’s Health Week! We encourage you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.




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Born to Move

WHW-EmailHeaderWe are born to move.

And when I say move, I mean something as simple as walking two blocks instead of hopping in your car. Exercise is great, but I’m simply referring to an active vs. sedentary lifestyle.

According to the research of Dr. Oliver Glass at Duke University, women with early stage breast cancer that are physically active post-diagnosis have a 30% reduction in breast cancer specific mortality and a 25% reduction in breast cancer recurrence compared to sedentary women.

So let me ask you this, when you approach escalators and stairs, do you automatically pick the escalator? Maybe it’s something you’ve never thought about, or maybe you decided “I’m just too tired today.” That wasn’t your body telling you that, that was your mind.


Zionna leading a group stretch.

So, let’s take it a step farther and talk about exercise. Sami Mansfield, an Oncologist Exercise Specialist from The University of Kansas Cancer Center says, “Exercising during treatment, to recover from surgeries is a key piece of survivorship.”

I can’t count the times I have witnessed people overthink exercise and fitness. When you break it down, it’s just movement. It’s simple decisions you make every day to be better. You’re allowing your body to do what it was meant to do.

Fitness and nutrition is 90% mental. I always say, showing up and warming up is the hardest part of my training. You have the right to test your muscular and skeletal structure. You just have to mentally say yes.


Zionna addressing the crowd.

I’m not saying you should start training like an Olympian. You know your body better than anybody else. Listen to it and consult a medical professional. An exercise plan for a young women after a diagnosis should be as personalized as her cancer treatment plan.

My background is in weightlifting, and I’m not going to lie, that’s a really intimidating place to start. Trust me, I’ve been there. I was intimidated by the barbell. I was intimidated by the gym. Mainly, because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to look stupid. But after conquering my fears, I learned that movement is an art. Movement is something that I’m supposed to do.

I’m here to challenge you to not be scared of returning to the life you knew pre-diagnosis and to not use cancer as a crutch. My challenge to you is in regard to your mental approach. I’m not saying to be a rebel and ignore everything the medical experts or your oncologists tell you. I’m challenging you to ask yourself, “Can I do this? Am I capable? Am I just being lazy? Am I making excuses?”

Ask yourself those questions when you see an opportunity to move, and be conscious of it. You’ll be surprised once you do. You’ll start to realize how many opportunities a day you can challenge yourself without even going into a gym.


Zionna giving some 1 on 1 coaching.

Exercise is the one thing you can give yourself every single day. It’s something that cancer can never take away from you. So, if you’re not sure where to start, it’s as simple as hitting the pavement and moving.

Change your mindset, challenge your body, and just move.

You can get started by studying great movement patterns. I highly recommend watching the squat contraption video from my friends at Vaughn Weightlifting. The squat is for everyone. If you want to move better, you are going to have to invest some time in studying it. Stay tuned for more to come on post diagnosis and treatment movement!


A huge thank you to Zionna Hanson of Barbells for Boobs for working with us for National Women’s Health Week! Don’t forget to check out the other awesome resources there were provided this week and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

YSC also offers a number of fitness resources including audio presentations from past conferences. You can listen in and review the presentations under “Nutrition and Physical Wellness.”






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Take Charge of Your Diet!

WHW-EmailHeaderProper nutrition is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. A good diet is even more important for young women facing breast cancer. Some types of chemotherapy may leave women with challenging weight problems—they can cause survivors to gain weight in a particular way by losing muscle and gaining fat tissue. Unfortunately, this can make losing weight more difficult since many of the usual ways won’t work. It’s normal to feel some frustration—but be patient with yourself. You have the ability to control a lot of things and make some positive choices, like eating a healthy diet.

To help you take control of your healthy diet, we created a Meal Planning Worksheet – an easy way to get you started on the road to healthy eating. The Meal Planning Worksheet will help you keep track of your weekly meals since planning ahead is a good way to understand your food choices.

A few key tips on nutrition that most of us are aware of, but forget to incorporate in our weekly meal plans:

 – Eat a plant-based diet and have at least 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
 – Try to include beans in your diet, and eat whole grains several times daily.
 – Choose foods low in fat and salt.

Some young women face a different challenge after their diagnosis – they have no desire to eat, and they lose weight. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist about your appetite and weight challenges. Try eating several, smaller nutritional meals daily.

Now that you have a Meal Planning Worksheet, below are a few favorite healthy recipes from YSC Staff. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Megan Farmers Market

Megan shopping for fresh produce at the Farmers Market in NYC.

Megan’s Favorite Vegetarian Bean Chili
by Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
This is my favorite “big batch” recipe. The chili is delicious and it’s so easy to make a hearty pot that lasts the whole week.

It’s full of protein with two different types of beans and for extra health benefit – add some turmeric!

Turmeric is believed to, among other things, have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Click here for the recipe.

Tastes great with coffee!

Tastes great with coffee!





Lily’s Breakfast Bars
I’ve always struggled to fit in a nutritious breakfast in the morning before work, unfortunately my nature is to usually prioritize a pot of coffee over food. This recipe is super simple and flexible; I make some variation of it every Sunday to last us through the work week. Having these bars on hand and ready to go helps me get some fuel in my body early in the day.
 – 2.5 cups Rolled Oats (can be toasted in the oven for about 15 minutes)
 – 1/3 cup Honey
 – 1/3 cup Nut Butter (almond, peanut or cashew)
 – 2/3 cup Dates (or dried fruit like apricots or cherries)
 – 1.5 cup Chopped Nuts (Ex: almonds or pistachios)

In a food processor, pulse the dates (or other fruit) until it’s finely chopped and forms a sticky ball. In a big bowl mix this with the oats (cooled down if they’ve been toasted), coarsely chopped nuts, honey and nut butter. You can also add anything else you like! Sometimes I throw in a handful of sunflower, pumpkin, sesame seeds, chia or flax. Mix it all well then turn the mixture out into a 9″x 13″ dish lined with parchment or plastic wrap. Use your hands or the bottom of a glass to compress the mixture firmly and let it set on the counter or in the fridge for a while. Then turn it out of the pan and cut into bars. I cut 10 to last two people for one work-week. They can be stored out on the counter in a container, or even frozen for later!

Mary and Irene

Mary’s little helper Irene enjoying some strawberries – a great and healthy snack!


Mary’s Super Simple Spinach Dip
I love this super simple Spinach dip recipe that my friends and family request I make for every get together! I make it a little lighter by using light sour cream and light cream cheese. Then serve the dip with tons of different veggies for a tasty appetizer everyone is sure to love.

Extra Health Tip: As soon as you get home from the farmers market or grocery store, clean and prep veggies and fruits so they are ready to eat and easy to grab when you want a quick snack!

Click here for the recipe.




You can add tempeh or chicken if you want more protein!








Jenn R.’s Baby Bok Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms and Red Bell Peppers
This is my go-to favorite delicious and healthy recipe from Women’s Health Magazine. I love it because it takes 30 minutes and I get to whip out my wok.

Sauce: 5 tsp low-sodium soy sauce 1 tsp roasted sesame oil 3/4 tsp cornstarch 1/2 tsp sugar

Stir-Fry: 1 Tbsp (packed) peeled, minced fresh ginger 2 tsp minced garlic 1 Tbsp peanut oil 8 cups sliced baby bok choy (from 3 heads) 2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms 1 cup sliced red bell pepper 2 tsp roasted sesame seeds

1.) Whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, and sugar until smooth. Set aside.

2.) In a large wok over high heat, stir-fry ginger and garlic in peanut oil for 1 minute. Add bok choy, mushrooms, and bell pepper, and stir-fry for 2 more minutes. Add the soy mixture, then stir-fry for another minute.

3.) Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Makes 4 Servings Per serving: 140 cal, 6 g fat (1 g sat), 20 g carbs, 330 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 5 g protein


They’re delicious even without the bun. Don’t forget the avocado and brown mustard for a tasty meal!

Jean’s Veggie Sliders
These veggie sliders are adapted from the Oh She Grow’s Perfect Veggie Burger recipe. For my version, I add corn, leave out the bread crumbs and make them smaller. You can eat these without a bun. They taste great with sliced avocado and some really good brown mustard. I love them because they are delicious, easy and healthy!

Click here for the recipe.







Keep a look-out for other awesome resources from YSC this week in celebration of National Women’s Health Week!
Don’t forget to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.





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Categories: Women's Health Week

It’s National Women’s Health Week!

WHW-EmailHeaderAs a woman who runs an organization focused on supporting women, I am psyched that this week is National Women’s Health Week.

Did you know that today marks the start of an entire week to focus on woman’s health? How cool is that? Translation: it’s never too early to take control of your health. This week is an opportunity for YOU to focus on your well-being from the inside out.

All week, YSC will be highlighting easy ways YOU can celebrate Women’s Health Week and take positive steps to become your own best health advocate. I hope you’ll follow along and share our tips and resources with the important women in your life. We’ll cover everything from exercise and nutrition to mental health.

Since today is also National Women’s Check-Up Day, why not start this week by scheduling your annual wellness visit? Before your appointment, gather your family health history. You can even store it in this online tool.  Getting regular check-ups and sharing your family health history (including heart disease, cancer and diabetes) with your physician are important steps. At your appointment be sure to ask what screenings you should have.

Take Charge of your Breast HealthAnd……. to help you and the women you love take control of your breast health, we created a great printable one-pager “Take Charge of your Breast Health” highlighting the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Download your printable today and share with family and friends.

What else are you doing this week to celebrate National Women’s Health Week? I want to hear from you! Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter and keep a look-out for awesome resources YSC will be highlighting each day.

Feel free to share your ideas, and don’t forget to share our Take Charge of your Breast Health one-page printable!

And from one woman to another…. I wish you happiness and good health!




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Honoring My Shero, My Mom

It was the summer before fifth grade and I was buying fireworks for the 4th of July when my mom got the terrifying call from her doctor. I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time, but I remember sitting with my mom and grandparents with tears streaming down our faces. I was absolutely terrified. I heard my mom and grandparents talking and I knew it was very bad. My parents divorced when I was a baby. My mom and I have a special bond and I couldn’t imagine my life without her.  I was trying to be brave for my mom, but I was only ten years old and I was really scared.

Then my mom wiped our tears, her face set with determination, and took me to our neighborhood fireworks display. I now know that my mom’s cancer was very aggressive (triple negative) and particularly deadly. My great-grandmother and two of my mom’s aunts died of breast cancer in their 30’s. My mom is the first in our family to survive the BRCA 1 gene that she inherited. The most important thing is that when she wiped our tears and took me to that fireworks display, she set the tone for our cancer journey.

claire and kristin treatment two

My mom and I taking on treatments together.

There were countless surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, and hospital sleepovers over the next two years. As I watched my mom endure so much pain and illness, I learned quickly that I could no longer smile through the pain and hide my emotions. We found Young Survival Coalition and they became our lifeline. YSC helped me get through my mom’s cancer. I was able to find other co-survivors just like me and talk to them about what I was going through.



Soon Mom and I started volunteering for YSC and found that helping others gave us back the power that cancer tried to take from us. We continue to volunteer today and I understand the value of family, friends, and community in the face of crisis. I grew up watching my mother exert influence and love by sharing her story. I continue to watch her reach out to our family, friends, community members, and even strangers in person and on social media to teach them how to be proactive with their health.

Senior prom night with my mom, Kristin.

I learned not just how to be present and overcome, but so much more than that. I learned how to face a crisis and turn it into an opportunity to reach out to others and be an example of hope. I learned how to make a difference. Seeing that type of courage and will power in the face of overwhelming fear and uncertainty every waking hour of my life was very powerful for me. I learned from age ten how to face anything with confidence and bravery, which forever shaped me into a person that knows how to not just go after my dreams, but to prevail regardless of the odds.

It is hard to believe it has been almost eight years since our world changed. In just a few weeks, I will graduate from high school. Wherever my dreams may take me academically and professionally, I know that they will include service to those in need. My mom is my hero and best friend and I am so grateful to have her in my life. Thank you, Mom, for being such an amazing role model!



Find helpful tips on communicating with children and resources to assist them in coping with your diagnosis and treatment.


Honor the Sheros in your life with a donation in their name.















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Cheers to Our Nurses

NNW2016_WebBanner_728x90px-final-01Grace Cook_2Today marks the start of National Nurses Week in which we celebrate the important role
nurses play in healthcare. As a young survivor, I personally understand the vital role nurses play when you’re diagnosed, through treatment and beyond. At the start, you have so many appointments, information and advice running through your head. For me, my nurse was crucial in making all of this more manageable and achievable. My parents and I often said she was like an angel. Not only was she super organized, but she gave me so much emotional support. I couldn’t have made it through without her. I’ll remember her forever.

I knew I wasn’t alone in my appreciation for all that nurses do for young women facing breast cancer. I asked YSC’s fabulous State Leaders for their thoughts on how nurses have positively impacted their breast cancer treatment and recovery.

“I had two amazing nurses during my treatment. My research nurse was my front line. She made sure every issue, and there were so many, was addressed. She listened to every concern and always made me feel comfortable every step of the way. My treatment nurse also holds a special place in my heart. She knew that chemo was no fun and losing my hair was traumatic, but always made each Monday the best she could. She made sure I was comfortable and doing okay. She always took the time to chat with me about everything from food to shopping. She also made me feel like her only patient.”
– Jodi, diagnosed at 30

“I LOVED my nurse, Denise. She was always so kind, gentle and listened. It’s funny how you find one nurse that you prefer to access your port. If she wasn’t there, I was always a bit leery. Everyone did a great job, but I just really connected with her. I still  seek her out for my checkups, just to say hi. I know how excited she was to see my wedding pictures and I can’t wait for her to see my baby bump at my next visit. If I had to go through it all again, I’d want Denise as my nurse for sure. She’s the best. Big thank you to her and all the nurses out there!”
– Melissa, diagnosed at 25

“My veins are terrible. But my chemo nurse, Darby, did her absolute best to put my mind at ease. As scary as some parts of my treatment were, having Darby act so confidently and compassionately gave me some space to relax before my infusions. I remain so grateful to her.”
– Megan, diagnosed at 34

“While I was in surgery for my mastectomy, the nurse navigator sat with my family and friends. My friends told her that she had to come back when I was awake because they knew we would hit it off. Almost 10 years later, we are still close friends and she calls me when she has a patient that she thinks I need to talk to for encouragement.”
– Rachel, diagnosed at 35

“My nurse advocated for my doctor to push me for more breast care when my mammogram came back “normal,” yet the lump was there. She made all the calls and stood by me. I would have been a different case without her. I was scared, but by her taking matters over she made me feel like I was going to get the best care. I still send her wine on my “lump day” 4 years out!”
– AnnMarie, diagnosed at 40

“All the nurses I’ve worked with were amazing, but Patti was especially amazing. She spent so much time with me and my co-survivor. She gave me her cell number to call with questions. She encouraged me to attend YSC’s conference for young women with breast cancer, which inspired me to start a support group for young breast cancer patients at Grant Medical Center. And all of that led to me getting more involved with YSC. None of that would have happen without Patti’s support.”
– Anne, diagnosed at 32


Did you connect with a nurse during your treatment? Did someone go above and beyond to support you? Give your favorite nurse a “shout-out” or “thank you” in the comments below!

Did you know it’s even easier to take control of your health? YSC has navigators to help you through diagnosis, post-treatment, long-term survivorship and living with metastatic breast cancer. You can download or order printed materials with just the click of a button.





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Tips from YSC Moms

For many mothers, one of the first reactions to being diagnosed with breast cancer is “What about my kids?” There is no one right way to help children cope because everyone is different. YSC has amazing staff who were mothers of young children when they were first diagnosed with breast cancer. We’ve asked a few of them to share some useful tips and offer advice from their own personal experiences.


Nicole Taylor, Regional Field Manager (West), diagnosed at 34


Me and my 5 year old daughter Kailee while I was going through chemotherapy in 2004.

My children were 2 and 4 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

 – Kids are resilient. One of the best pieces of advice that another young survivor shared with me when I was first diagnosed was that kids are resilient, more than we can even imagine. It’s okay if they watch a little more Blue’s Clues or have PB&J for lunch a little too often. Kids will still thrive and grow into wonderful human beings!

 – Let things go. Spend time with your kids and let the dishes and laundry pile up. It’ll be there tomorrow. Or better yet, take one of your friends and family up on their offer to help. They can hang out with the kids or assist with daily chores that can drain your energy and eat up precious family time. Organizational programs like lotsahelpinghands are helpful to add chores, rides to school, sports and doctor appointments to allow others to help you.

 – Be open with your kids. I was very open with my kids about cancer. I lost my mom to a brain tumor at a young age, so I understood what’s going through the mind of a 5 year old when they learn “mom is sick.” Cancer is a very abstract thing, so depending on the age of your child, they will have different questions and levels of understanding. Honestly, they may not want to know the science of breast cancer, but may want to know if you’re going to be okay. “Are you going to die from cancer?” That is absolutely the hardest question to answer and one that is asked often, usually over cheerios at the breakfast table. My consistent answer every time was “I did everything in my power to make sure my cancer doesn’t come back. Right now, there is no evidence of disease (NED) or cancer in my body. My promise to you is if that ever changes, I will tell you the truth and what it means. For now, we will move forward with living and enjoying all of the beauty of life. The ups, downs and in betweens.”


Michelle Esser, Senior Program Manager of Research and Advocacy, diagnosed at 37

Michelle bald

This is one of the few occasions where my son saw me without a wig or scarf. It was taken post-treatment and my hair was starting to come back.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my son was 3 and my daughter was 6.

 – Remember, kids are super smart.  They can pick-up on emotions and that something is “up.” Even if you think you’re successfully keeping something about your diagnosis “quiet” or a “secret,” you’re not. Kids just know!  Keep them informed as much as possible (age appropriate information), so they don’t have to worry about what’s going on or invent an explanation that could be worse than the truth.

 – Have backup the first time you speak with them. When you tell your kids about your diagnosis, have someone there with you if possible.  They can be your “back-up” in case you find yourself at a loss for words or become emotional.

 – Let them know about their daily schedule. Make sure the kids know how your diagnosis and treatment will affect their day-to-day life. Will they still be able to play with the neighbor kids? Will someone else be in your house helping to look after them?

 – Be prepared for tough questions! Kids, especially young kids, don’t have filters.  Think of the worst possible thing they could ask you and be prepared. My 6-year old daughter asked me who would take care of her when I died – and I had never mentioned dying.

 – Be open to future discussions. Let them know it is okay to come back to you with questions.

 – Take cues for your kids. If you’ll lose your hair due to treatment, take cues from your kids about how they want to handle this and whether they want to see you bald. Some kids are fine and think it is fun to help shave mom’s head. Others, like mine, were terrified and did not want to see me without something covering my head. I tried to respect that as much as I could.


Medha Sutliff, Senior Regional Field Manager (Midwest), diagnosed at 28 and 37

sejal and me

This is my smiling thru tears photo. I had to wear glasses because chemo made my eyes so dry. I’m wearing a wig and sitting with my 6 month old daughter who I couldn’t lift as I was recovering from surgery.

My first breast cancer diagnosis was at 28, right after I got married. In March 2005, I received my second breast cancer diagnosis at 37. At that time I had four kids, ages 3 months, 5, 9 and 11 years old.

 – Don’t try to go it alone! This is the #1 tip I can give to young mothers facing breast cancer. Navigating life as a mom can be challenging enough, but then a cancer diagnosis and treatment can make it overwhelming. It’s important to seek out resources and accept help!

 – Get resources on how to talk to your kids. One big area I needed help with was how to talk to my kids about cancer. There are publications and books that can help you find the right words. Two good places to start are the American Cancer Society and CancerCare. There are also mom blogs and other websites that provide information, one which I remember looking at was Mothers With Cancer. I also recommend talking to other moms who have had a cancer diagnosis.

 – Attend support groups for families. Ask your nurse navigator if there is a cancer support group for families with young kids. It is worth attending! Some medical centers or cancer support organizations have support groups just for kids who have a parent who has been diagnosed.

 – Set up a CaringBridge or similar site. It was exhausting for me to keep responding to texts and calls from people inquiring how I was doing. You don’t need to post updates on Facebook or social media for the world to see, but you can easily setup a secure page on CaringBridge where you or a designated person can post updates. Plus you can read everyone’s well wishes. 

 – Get help with meals. MealTrain is another great site to help organize those who want to bring meals.

 – Set up a “busy box.” This was great for my 5 year old and 6 month old. This is just a box with some new fun toys and games that you can bring out when you’re tired or not feeling well. It’s something your friends can help you put together. Keep this box only for those special times when you need them busy so that it gets the kids interest when you need it to.



Find more resources and tips for children on YSC’s website. Connecting with other mothers who have been affected by breast cancer is also helpful, whether it’s through the YSC Community Forum, on the Private Facebook Group, or in person at a Face 2 Face group.

We’re here to help, so let us know how we can assist you and your family. Find your YSC Regional Field Manager, your go-to person for resources and support in your area.





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Categories: YSC SYNC - Survivors

The Weight of Uncertainty

As we near the end of Stress Awareness Month, we’d like to share a blog written by Melissa Eppard, a young survivor, wife, and mother who lives in the Hudson Valley of New York. Melissa works as a Life Coach, writer and artist. Her inspiring blog focuses on healing and hope after her breast cancer diagnosis. This particular entry, The Weight of Uncertainty, touches upon the stress a young woman facing breast cancer can feel while making decisions about her treatment and recovery.

ME-8811LRI will write this not to raise alarm bells, nor to let my fears and worries spiral out into the mucky sea of collective uncertainty. I don’t wish you to hold me in thoughts of sorrow or sympathy. Still, this needs to be written and shared because I know someone out there will read this and will know the exquisite pain and heaviness of uncertainty and I want YOU to know you are not alone. I share this in hopes to offer some guidance as to how to tread these murky waters.

Two weeks ago I got a call that my recent pelvic ultrasound results were questionable. I was ordered to go for blood work and to return for another scan in 6 weeks. I’m holding court with a vision of these two cysts being just that, regular normal cysts that will go away on their own. Over the years I have had them before, and while uncomfortable, they just burst on their own. No big deal.

The ironic timing of this news is that I have been debating in my mind the recommendation of my doctors to relinquish my ovaries by the time I am 40. Chemo does a number on you, and for some the total cessation of your monthly cycle is one of the many side effects. I was thrown into a yearlong “chemopause” that came with all the discomforts that menopause brings. Only just recently did my hormones come back online and I could feel a complete return to my old self again. Why couldn’t I just stall the oophorectomy a little longer, until maybe 45? Do I really need to put myself through another surgery in the next year or two? Am I ready to be thrust into permanent menopause within hours of this procedure, hitting the irreversible switch?

Looking at the data, the statistics aren’t so good for women with the BRCA 1 gene mutation. While the general population has a 2% risk of developing ovarian cancer over the course of a lifetime, the risk for BRCA 1 women is somewhere in the 35-70% zone. I have shelved this data, with a proverbial wave of my hand and a “yeah-yeah, whatever”, until now.

The dismissal of symptoms in the recent past has not served me. What I thought was a swollen lymph gland was a tumor. I’m a little gun shy, trying to find the middle ground between optimism and dismissiveness, hope and denial. While I would like to take the kid-gloves off, I still question everything in a new way. I am hopeful and feeling full of life, yet I know that I never want to endure chemo again if I can help it. I know that my little ovarian oysters are tricky to diagnosis. It is not until things are too far gone that they can detect ovarian cancer.

After my breast surgery, I had met another BRCA 1, triple negative breast cancer survivor. She told me that she had gone for her oophorectomy immediately after having her breast reconstruction. It seemed strange to me, and I admit feeling a little judgement about it. I am not of the mindset that it’s normal to just keep cutting away parts of your body. My incisions were still screaming red fresh and the PTSD of surgery and the oncoming chemotherapy had me in a head spin. I wondered, “Am I playing God here? I was born this way, with this genetic defect. Maybe I am not meant to live out a 70+ year life.”

Melissa and sonHere is where my faith and the empirical value of science wed. I look at my little boy and my husband and feel the precariousness of our day to day life. These guys need me around for the long haul if I can help it. And here I am standing on the threshold, given a choice that truly can help prolong my life. While I have enjoyed the juiciness of my hormonal youth, I can choose to view it as just another small sacrifice. This is what it comes down to for me when our little family sits in a cozy hug sandwich.

If you are still reading this, I bet you too know something of courage and bravery. You know that by turning your back and not making a choice, you are in effect making a choice. I can’t say for you if this is the right one or not. I think of all my brothers and sisters in this world who are not given much of a choice, who have lost hope, and for that I am truly sorry.  Still, there is work to be done here, lives to touch, love to share, until the last breath and beyond.

How do you keep moving in the face of uncertainty and fear? You hold onto the hope around you until you can find your own, and with a little seed of courage, you take that first step forward.

*For the BRCA+ people out there, here is a decision tool that can help you compare your options with or without surgery, based on the data of recorded survivor rates.


Find strength in the inspirational stories of other young survivors on YSC’s website. Survivor Stories are personal reflections and experiences that members of the YSC Circle share with others affected by breast cancer. If you would like to add your own voice to this collection, please follow this link to submit your story.





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